The "G" In Masonry's Emblem

The "G" In Masonry's Emblem
by George H.T. French

A brother returned from a trip to Europe and asked "why is the
Letter G not attached to the Square and compasses over there?"
This resurrected the question that had arisen in my mind when
I first saw the device with three items: "What is the 'G' doing at-
tached to Freemasonry's classical and universal emblem?"
    In quest of an answer the question was put to several well
informed brothers, but they all gave -- essentially -- the same
answer that Coil offers in his Masonic Encyclopedia. This is what
Coil says:

    It will surprise some to know that it was not until about
    1850 that the Letter G was placed in the center of the inter-
    laced Square and Compasses for pins and badges as com-
    monly represented today, and that it is supposed to have
    originated as a jeweler's design and not by action of any
    Masonic authority.

    Farther down on the same page Coil states that:

    A moment's reflection will apprise one that the G in the
    center of the Square and Compasses is an incongruity ...
    The latter are great lights, but the G is not.

    In pursuing the matter, further evidence was discovered,
and the information available today shows that the attach-
ment of the three items occurred quite a few years before the
1850 date given by Coil. To submit that information is the
purpose of this paper.


    A good way to start will be to establish how the Square
and Compasses originally became interlaced and rose to be
the recognized and universal emblem of the Craft.
    The earliest known Masonic coin was minted in 1733. In
it there is visible a square and also a pair of compasses, but
these two items are set apart from each other. They are not
conjoined nor interlaced. Upon studying Masonic exposures
of the early 1700s there appears either a square or the com-
passes, and if both appeared simultaneously they were never
joined and not even near each other.
    Coil states that the square and compasses in their present
day interlacement first appeared in the seal of Lodge of Aber-
deen in 1762. However, even earlier than 1762 there is a beau-
tiful picture of an English warrant for the Provincial Grand
Lodge of Pennsylvania, dated July 15, 1761, in Freemasonry in
Pennsylvania, 1727 - 1907, Vol. I, pp. 120/1. It is signed by
Laurence Dermott and has the superimposed square and
compasses in the seal. The seal itself is depicted on page 672 of
the History of Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted
Masons, edited by Bro. H.L. Stillson, Boston, 1910.
    Careful research has brought to light earlier instances of
the interlaced square and compasses. For instance, there has
been found a reprint of a lodge summons form used in Europe
on the Continent in 1760.
    In a 1749 French exposure called Nouveau Catechisme des
Franc-Macons there is a pictorial representation of the master of
a lodge standing behind a table over which has been placed a
mantle adorned with interlaced square and compasses in a
manner usual among Masons.
    On the Island of Corfu excavations unearthed some eight
and ninth century coins and vessels, and among them a
bronze square and compasses. This jewel was very much cor-
roded, and although there can scarcely be a doubt that it is
Masonic, its age is difficult to ascertain. Much depends on the
level at which the jewel might have been found, and unfortu-
nately, there was no such information on the point. British
Museum experts were inclined to ascribe it to the seventeenth
    In Cuzco, Peru, capital of the old Inca empire, the Con-
quistadores erected the Church of La Compania in 1580. It
was reconstructed about 1600 to 1620. Alongside the church,
while it was in course of erection, would have been a masons'
workshop or "lodge," and it is precisely in this area that two
carved 3 foot tail wooden objects have been recently
unearthed. One of which clearly shows a square and com-
passes. The carved objects which may well have adorned the
"lodge" in some prominent location, are now in the possession
of Koricancha ("Temple of the Sun") Lodge No. 40, Cuzco,
constituted in 1942 under the Grand Lodge of Peru.
    The information presented proves that historically the as-
sociation between the square and compasses is of long stand-
ing. Antiquity supports their partnership. To that must be
added that they appear together, in Sundry Roles, in all three
degrees of Craft Masonry. Hence, universality is added to
their antiquity. It is only natural, then, that these tools would
gradually come together and become interlaced to constitute
the classical emblem of the Craft.


    Historically, the square and the compasses were used in
architecture and have been in Masonry since time immemo-
rial, and this explains their presence in the Freemasonry we
practice today. Whereas the Letter G appears to have entered
Freemasonry as late as the 1700s.
    The prevailing notion is that there is no trace of the Let-
ter G in the numerous English and Scottish catechisms that
appeared during the years 1696 to 1730. However, in 1726
there was published in London a newspaper advertisement re-
garding "Antediluvian Masonry," which seemed to be a skit
on Dr. Desaguliers and his friends, and was obviously written
by some well-informed person. The advertisement announces
that there will be several lectures on Ancient Masonry, partic-
ularly on the Signification of the Letter G. If the 1726 date is
correct, then this advertisement contains the earliest refer-
ences known to us about the Letter G.
    Furthermore, the Wilkinson manuscript is a catechism
tentatively dated c. 1727 and it says: "Q. What is the centre of
yr Lodge? A. The Letter G."
    The frontispiece to Cole's Constitutions, which is dated
1728/29, clearly shows a letter G in the head of an arch at the
right of the central figure.
    The use of the Letter G was definitely established in the
Masonic ritual by Samuel Prichard in his tremendously pop-
ular 1730 Exposure, printed under the name of Masonry Dis-
sected. Because Prichard introduced new developments, one of
which was an explanation of the Letter G, it does not mean
that he invented these developments. In the first place, there
is the above mentioned 1726 newspaper reference to the G,
and in the second place the rather archaic doggeral verse in
which the G is handled in Masonry Dissected suggests some
measure of antiquity. It is far more likely that the Letter G
and other explanatory aspects were traditional material in
Craft lore long before the Speculative expansion had begun
and the accretive bulkiness of the ritual had started to afflict
Craft Ceremonial.
    A very early instance of a pictorial reproduction of the
Letter G in print appears in an engraving representing an
English lodge at refreshment. The copperplate engraving was
the work of K. Koberg, it was performed in 1738 and ap-
peared in Calliope, a song book dated 1739.
  An exposure called Dialogue Between Simon and Philip, dated
c. 1740, has two prints. The first one shows the cruciform shape
of the old lodges, whereas the second shows the oblong form of
the new lodges under Desaguliers. But what is of special interest
is the fact that both drawings show a "G" in the Center of the
"lodge," in one with a diamond shaped rombus, and in the other
within an irradiated circle. That was c. 1740.
    When the Letter G did enter into Speculative Masonry it
was most decidedly only as a Second Degree Symbol. What
happened was that when the two original degrees were grad-
ually being transformed into three degrees in the early 1700s,
the initial weakness of the newborn Second Degree was offset
by the introduction of innovations. Thus the Middle Chamber
and the Letter G were added to the Fellowcraft Degree, and
originally did not have any connection at all with the First or
Third Degrees. For that matter, not even in today's work is
the G mentioned in the First or Third Degrees.
    By 1744 there appears pictorial evidence of the G in a
French exposure called Le Catechisme des Franc-Macons, written
by Louis Travenol. Le Catechisme furnishes an engraving de-
picting a combined design for the Apprentice - Fellow's
Lodge, in the center of which there is clearly visible a Letter G
within a blazing star. This is one of the earliest-known printed
illustrations of what ultimately became the modern Tracing
Boards. It is just possible that this engraving, showing a de-
sign combining the Blazing Star, a First Degree symbol, with
the Letter G, a Second Degree symbol, on the same floor
drawing may have led, by gradual and successive mutations,
to the display of the Letter G in lodges of all degrees. This may
have been fostered by the 1843 Baltimore Convention when it
sounded the death knell of the Blazing Star as being too Chris-
tian a symbol.
    During the years between 1740 and 1780 there is evi-
dence of the G as an item of lodge furnishings, either as a pen-
dant from the ceiling of the lodge-room, or as a template on
the floor, or as part of the design of the tracing boards. Today
very few of the almost 2000 lodges in London have a visible G
either in the East or hanging from the ceiling, whereas the G
is displayed in every Scottish lodge, usually hanging above the
altar in the center of the Lodge-room, although sometimes in
the East over the Master's chair.
    A point to remember is that when the Letter G entered
our ancient ritual it was represented pictorially on floor cloths
or tracing boards as standing on its own, and in no way linked
to the square and compasses. For instance, an engraving by
John Scoles is the Frontispiece of James Hardie's New Freema-
son's Monitor printed in New York, in 1818. Also, a handker-
chief printed by Gray and Todd, in Philadelphia, c. 1817. In
both these pictures appear square and compasses, sometimes
separated, sometimes interlaced, but never attached in any-
way to the Letter G, presented in both specimens.
    Notwithstanding that it is conspicuously displayed in
many lodges, the Letter G has the curious, if not unique, dis-
tinction of being a Masonic symbol which does not have the
all-important characteristic of universality. In the first place,
the working tools, the greater and lesser lights, the pillars,
which form an intrinsic part of our method of teaching, convey
the same lessons to Masons in every language. Whereas the G
bears its interpretation primarily in English, and only by ac-
cident in other languages such as German. Secondly, the G
lacks universality because ritually it appears only in the sec-
ond Degree.


    One cannot read the old Masonic Constitutions without
being struck by the prominence given to Geometry in their de-
scriptions of Masonry. The oldest copy of them all - The Re-
gius Poem - makes Masonry to spring from Geometry, as
may be seen in lines 53 and 54 of that manuscript: "On this
manner, thru good wit of Geometry - Began first the Craft of
    In every one of the hundred or so old manuscripts, Ge-
ometry is placed first among the Sciences.
    The most reasonable explanation would be that Opera-
tive Masonry was nothing other than applied Geometry, and
the two terms, Masonry and Geometry, became virtually syn-
onymous, with the word Geometry holding a special connota-
tion for the masons of c. 1400. So long as that connotation re-
mained (as it did for several hundred years) it was inevitable
that when the first glimmerings of symbolism began to make
their appearance in the Craft, the significance of Geometry
would be emphasized in some way.
    When the Craft became more structured as a Speculative
Craft after the creation of the Premier Grand Lodge in 1717,
Geometry continued in its place of prominence. Masonry Dis-
sected, a 1730 exposure, stated that the institution is rounded
on "the liberal arts and sciences, but more especially on the
fifth, viz., Geometry."
    A Dialogue Between Simon and Philip, a c. 1740 expo-
sure, also stresses Geometry. "Phil. Why was you made a
Mason? Sim. For the sake of the letter G. Phil, What does it
signifye? Sim, GEOMETRY. Phil. Why GEOMITRY? Sim.
Because it is the Root and foundation of all Arts and Sci-
ences. "
    William Preston, in his Lectures of the end of the 18th
century, reflects this thought, that masonry and geometry
meant the same thing to those concerned, because originally
Masonry and Geometry must have been synonymous terms.
And round about the year 1800 the G. denoted Geometry for
the Premier Grand lodge of England.
    In the Revised English Ritual, the Charge after Passing
states that "the study of the liberal Arts which tend so effec-
tually to polish and adorn the mind, is earnestly recom-
mended to your consideration, especially the study of Geome-
try, which is established as the basis of our Craft."


    However, as the operative element of the Craft died out,
the Letter G gradually lost its powers to suggest Geometry. At
the same time, the Speculative Masons began referring to God
as the Grand Geometrician of the Universe in the Second De-
gree, and some feel that this trend helped to veer the meaning
of the G from Geometry to God. However, available evidence
for this explanation is indeed very slender. What we do know
is that originally the Letter G in the Fellowcraft Degree re-
ferred to Geometry, that this degree was altered considerably
between 1730 and 1813, and that gradually the reference to
God was introduced and became solidly established.


    The next question is, when did all three items - Square,
Compasses and "G" - first appear attached? Harry Carr
says that it is impossible to answer with certainty because
many of the examples (even the early ones) are not dated, and
many that have early dates are forgeries! In England most of
the best examples belong to the period 1775 to 1810, mainly in
pierced silver jewels and less often in solid "plate" Jewels.
    Most changes take place gradually. The attachment of
the G to the interlaced Square and Compasses also occurred
gradually, and did not happen at the same time in all places.
Thus there is a pierced silver jewel of c. 1760 which shows the
working tools (square and compasses interlaced) not enclos-
ing a G but surrounded by a large G which more or less
frames the whole design. Many of these items appear to have
been "decorative" rather than "ritualistic."
    For the first appearance of the interlaced square, com-
passes and the Letter G in the United States, Brother Harry
Carr suggests the perfect answer. In Masonic Symbols in Ameri-
can Decorative Arts, published in 1976 by the Scottish Rite Mu-
seum of our National Heritage (U.S.A.), there is a picture
(Item No. 10) ofa gilded brass piece cast by Paul Revere and
dated 1796. This specimen consists of the three interlaced
items, Square, Compasses and G. Surrounded by a cable tow,
and has been lent to the Museum by its owner, Mr. Russell
Nadeau. Item No. 12, a door knocker in brass removed from a
house in Boston, Mass., before 1910, is equally useful but un-
fortunately is not dated. Further research is leading to the feel-
ing that 1796 is not the earliest date, and that there may be
items from c. 1775 onwards made in America.
    One must always beware of forgeries and anachronisms.
There is a painting on display in the Chicago Historical Soci-
ety in which George Washington appears wearing a Masonic
apron which shows the Letter G attached to the interlaced
square and compasses. There is also a picture of Benjamin
Franklin wearing an apron with the same design. Washington
died in 1799 and Franklin died in 1790. So it is very probable
that aprons with the three element design were not yet being
worn when these patriots lived.
    It is a fact that the power of fashion and common usage
has always to be reckoned with. For instance, Coil on page
270 of his Masonic Encyclopedia states his belief in the incongru-
ity of placing the G in the center of the square and compasses.
And yet, at the top of that very same page there appears a
drawing of the G placed within the interlaced Square and
    Moreover, there must be a certain appeal or attraction
about the three unit Masonic emblem, for it is found in many
parts of the world and displayed in many ways and forms. In
Cuba, over the illuminated terrestrial globe on the roof of the
Grand Lodge Temple at Havana, In Mexico, on a publication.
In Jamaica on the building of the Masonic Temple above Mon-
tego Bay. In the Republic of Colombia on a Masonic pamphlet.
Below the Equator, on a postage stamp in Brasil. Across the At-
lantic, the device is displayed in Scotland on the Master Ma-
son's apron and on the Jewel of the Grand Master in Ireland.
The Spanish Masons also use it: on the 1830 seal of the Lodge
Friends of Nature and Humanity, in Gijon, and on the cover of
the Constitution of the Grand Orient of Spain, Madrid, 1934.
Finland, whose Lodge of Research is a Corresponding Member
of Texas Lodge of Research, shows the G coveting the joint of
the Compasses. Because it is seen everywhere in United States
there is no need to mention any instances of its use. However, it
would not be amiss to mention that it is placed very conspicu-
ously on Texas' reconstructed first Masonic monument, the one
in Morton Cemetery, Richmond, originally dedicated in 1825 to
Robert Gillespie.


    In conclusion, let it be stated that 1850 is not the earliest
recorded case of the G appearing inside the interlaced Square
and Compasses. There is definite proof of Paul Revere having
cast a brass specimen as early as 1796. And, as for the second
part of Coil's statement, one must accept that the incongruity
of the union is hallowed by and must be accepted due to the
power of common usage.
                 Published in Transactions, Texas